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27th Fungal Genetics Conference, Asilomar, California, USA 12th – 17th March 2013
The fungal genetics conference is one of the most important biannual events in the area of fungal genetics and gathers scientists from around the world to meet in a fantastic location at the Asilomar state park in California. The topics at this conference are very broad, ranging from fungal genes and genomes, through to metabolic pathways, cell signalling, hyphal growth and plantpathogen interactions, to antifungal compounds. Plant pathologists are at the cutting edge of this work. However, this conference is much wider than just plant pathology and draws scientists working in all areas of fungal biology to see the exciting developments in model systems, such as Neurospora spp. and how these detailed studies can then be used to understand and control the plant diseases affecting our crops.
Working in a little understood fungal barley pathogen Ramularia collo-cygni both Marta and I were hopeful that we would learn a great deal from this conference and we were not disappointed.
In the day before the main conference began, we were able to take part in a dothdeomycetes workshop were I presented to the audience our current and future work on R. collo-cygni, this preconference workshop was organised by Dr Stephen Goodwin from the Purdue University and from this event we were able to develop some useful links which we hope will lead to some important working partnerships.
The highlights of the conference are difficult to combine into just a few words since the more we think, the more examples we can think of. One of the most interesting and impressive talks was from Dr Eva Stukenbrock from the Max Planck Institute who gave a plenary lecture on the ‘Comparative population genomics in Zymoseptoria spp. ‘ This work showed how it is important to look at the wild relatives of fungal pathogens affecting crop plants and by studying the wild plant pathogen dynamics we can begin to understand how pathogen populations have developed over time. After this talk we had the chance to talk to Eva about her research and this is hopefully going to lead to some collaborative work between our two groups. The pathogen R. collo-cygni also has biological similarities to that of the endophyte Epichloe festucae and during the extensive poster session I was able to talk to Dr Christine Voisey from AgResearch in New Zealand about her interesting work on symbiont colonisation.
All in all this was a fantastic conference which I hope to attend again in two years, and to top it all Marta was able to take home the prize for the best poster in the population genetics, for her work entitled “Estimation of genetic diversity of Ramularia collo-cygni populations using nuclear SSR markers to infer its potential to adapt to environmental change”.
We would finally like to thank BSPP for providing Marta and myself with a generous travel award to attend this excellent and rewarding conference in one of the most beautiful parts of California.
James Fountaine and Marta Piotrowska Scotland Rural College, Edinburgh.
Sarah Gurr (University of Exeter) adds; Over 900 delegates from 40 countries (including 30 US states) gathered at the 27th Fungal Genetics Conference in Asilomar this spring. This conference gives us both a superb opportunity to hear the very best fungal researchers discussing their recent findings and a chance to network madly! This year’s event was a highly successful affair, with many highlights and updates on recent advances in comparative genomics, imaging and cell biology, exploitation of fungi in synthetic biology, evo/dev and pathogenicity and many, many other topics. So, rather than listing all of these I have chosen two talks which caught my imagination.
Firstly ‘Evolution of sexual reproduction: a view from the fungal kingdom’ by Joe Heitman (Duke University). Joe considered the usefulness of sexual reproduction in the promotion of genetic diversity and evolution but also alluded to its cost. He discussed both bipolar and tetrapolar sexual cycles and the tetrapolar-bipolar transition in the context of plant and animal-infecting fungispeculating that it is selected during host adaptation. Joe then conjected that the benefit of unipolar / unisexual mating is in mitigating the costs associated with sex. A truely thought-provoking discourse.
Secondly ‘Analysis of effector proteins from flax rust and wheat stem rust’ by Peter Dodds (CSIRO). Peter gave an excellent talk on the identification of wheat stem rust effector genes. His group has developed an elegant screen for effectors which are recognised by wheat R genes. He highlighted one effector, which induces rapid cell death in a particular wheat cultivar. This talk was a superb advertisement for the power of effector biology in unmasking new host R genes and the chance to take candidate genes to the field.
Finally, the sun shone throughout the meeting and the warm spring embraced us all, helping forge new friendships and catalysing new collaborations across the continents. I am grateful to BSPP for its support in transporting me to California this March.
Ronnie de Jonge (VIB, University of Ghent) adds; This March I attended my second Fungal Genetics Conference at the Asilomar conference grounds located directly at the Pacific Ocean in California, USA.
Topics ranged from comparative and functional genomics, metabolomics, population, and evolutionary genetics to cell biology and development, metabolism, and gene regulation. Like last time, March 2011, I greatly enjoyed this meeting, the talks, the venue and moreover the possibility to discuss science with fellow scientists in the field.
Numerous fascinating subjects passed during all sessions, even though some tough choices had to be made during the concurrent sessions. I was especially intrigued by Dr. Alexandra Brand’s talk on ‘Understanding directional growth in fungi’. Through various means she showed how Candida albicans hyphae ‘memorise’ and determine directional growth alongside edges and corners as a consequence of various external stimuli such as electrical fields, ion concentration and nano-obstacles.
Aided by some highly animating movies several key mechanistic and genetic insights that underpin directional growth in fungal hyphae were shown.
Another fascinating talk was delivered by Dr. Audrey Gasch on ‘Tackling biofuel bottlenecks through genome wide association studies in Saccharomyces cerevisiae‘. Comparative genomics among various individuals revealed considerable number of structural variants, associated with adaptive treats, a subject which is closely related to my own line of work.
The concurrent sessions were highly entertaining, despite the tough choices that were made. I was especially fascinated by Dr. Judith Berman’s talk on ‘Dramatic ploidy change as an adaptive strategy in Candida albicans’, a story that was published shortly after the meeting in Nature and describes how the ‘obligate’ diploid fungus Candida albicans can actually exist in haploid as well as triploid and tetraploid stages.
Finally, I would like to thank the BSPP for financially supporting my attendance to this great meeting. The XVI Botrytis Symposium, Locorotondo, Italy 23rd – 28th June 2013 The XVI Botrytis Symposium was held in Southern Italy at Contra di Ricerca, associated with the University Aldo Moro, Bari. It was a relatively small conference of approximately 132 Botrytis enthusiasts hosted by Professor Franco Faretra (Univ. of Bari) and sponsored by Sumitomo, the Japanese Agrochemical company, who took the opportunity to promote their new fungicide PROLECTUS (Fenpyrazamine).
Presentations covered a wide range of topics, notably an overview of Botrytis cinerea populations in table grapes, kiwi fruits and blueberries in Chile (Jaime Auger), B. cinerea as an endophyte in Primula and lettuce (Mike Shaw, presented by Molly Dewey, Oxford, UK), novel RNA mycoviruses in B. cinerea and B. porri (Guo-Qing li, Wuhan, China), multiple fungicide resistance (George Karaoglanidis, Greece), variable levels of resistance to fenhexamide (Wayne Wilcox, USA), additional effects of simultaneous applications of bio-control agents and chemical fungicides (Alison Stewart, formerly University of Lincoln, NZ, now Marrone Bio-Innovations, California), status and perspectives on genome sequencing of Botrytis species (Jan van Kan, Wageningen, Netherlands), an overview of virulence factors in B. cinerea (Celedonio Gomzalez, Tenerife), surprising defense phenotype in transgenic grapevine overexpressing polygalacturonase inhibiting protein (PGIP) (Malane Vivier, Stellenbosch, South Africa), gene regulatory networks mediating plant defense (Katherine Denby, University of Warwick, UK) and susceptibility of ripening tomato fruit to B. cinerea associated with disassembly of fruit cell wall (Ann Powell, Univ. California at Davis).
An informal discussion, led by Peter Johnston and chaired by Jan van Kan, was held on the future nomenclature of species of the genus Botrytis / Botryotinia, which was timely and important. The International Mycological Association in April 2011 organised the meeting ‘One Fungus = One Name’, resulting in the Amsterdam declaration on fungal nomenclature.
The mycological community has recently agreed on the official use of either the anomorph name or teleomorph name of each fungus but not both. For fungal species for which both anamorph and teleomorph forms are described, the communities or researchers working with the organisms now need to choose between names based on criteria recommended by the IMA. In the case of Botrytis/Botryotinia species, the members of the Botrytis conference were united in recommending that only the anomorph names (Botrytis) be used and the teleomorph names (Botryotinia) become obsolete.
The Locorotondo region is famous for the production of table grapes and good food. In keeping with its reputation we were treated each day to a generous buffet lunch and evening meal of locally prepared traditional dishes. We all had a chance to visit to the table grape vineyards of the Giuliano Puglia Fruit company and see their very large scale, impressive, packing plant which at the time we visited were grading and packing cherries. The symposium dinner was incredible. It was held in a splendid venue overlooking the sea at Bari. One specialist fish dish course followed another, six courses in all!!
Before the conference ended it was announced by the organizers that the next Botrytis Symposium will be held from 23 to 28 October, 2016 at the University of Santiago, Chile, hosted by Professor Jaime Auger. I would like to thank the BSPP for a Travel Award and EnviroLogix for funds that helped cover my accommodation costs. It was a most enjoyable and stimulating conference.
Molly Dewey High Grade Seed Potato Production in Northern France Eighteen members of the Pre Basic Seed Growers Association, a group of early generation high grade seed potato producers, participated in a study visit to Northern France over the three days 26th – 28th June 2013. The visit was hosted and organised by staff of the potato company Desmazieres, a sister company of the Dutch potato cooperative Agrico. The aim of the visit was to look in detail at early generation seed production in the area of Northern France overseen by the Comite Nord, the industry body charged with controlling seed potato production in the area.
Almost 12,000 hectares of classified seed potatoes are grown by 400 growers in the Comite Nord area. These include varieties grown for processing, for supermarket sales and for starch production. There are two other seed growing areas in France – in Brittany where 5,000 hectares are grown and in the Centre and South of France with 1,000 hectares. Each area has its own, industry controlled, inspection service, justified on the grounds of distance between each area. Interestingly, the seed area in Northern France has increased by around 500 hectares in each of the last five years. These areas compare with the 11,000 hectares of seed potatoes grown in Scotland and the 3,000 hectares in England.
The Comite Nord has a very impressive headquarters and modern laboratory facility in the north of the region at Bretteville Du Grand Caux, built, apparently, from funding provided by the 400 seed growers at a cost of 11 million euros. The organisation, which is responsible for growing crop and tuber inspections as well as all laboratory testing of seed potatoes, is entirely industry controlled and includes 25 seed companies in addition to the 400 growers.
A surprising initial finding was that around 30 seed growers also have their own mini-tuber production facility: unlike in Scotland there seems not to be a concentration of mini-tuber production in very large specialist units.
Mini-tubers of up to 300 varieties are produced in glasshouses or polytunnels from 320,000 plantlets supplied by the Comite Nord laboratories at a cost of around 60c each. But mini-tuber production seems not to be part of the routine inspection service. Production of mini-tubers from tissue culture aims to be disease free and great care is taken to ensure that glasshouses and polytunnels remain aphid free.
Growing crop inspections appear to be less formal than in Scotland with Comite Nord inspectors visiting crops on a weekly basis to check for varietal purity and a range of specified diseases.
Following harvesting stocks also seem to be inspected on a regular basis for tuber borne disease. The organisation employs 25 dedicated seed potato inspectors – they work full time for Comite Nord and have no responsibilities other than for seed potato inspections. In addition to the 25 full time inspectors the organisation employs 40 laboratory technicians for the range of tests done on growing crop material and harvested tubers. A further 15 specialist scientists are employed on research projects. These include pathogen detection procedures and disease control measures.
As in Scotland all fields intended for seed production are sampled and tested for Potato Cyst Nematodes (Globodera rostochiensis and G. pallida). According to the information we were given live cysts are found in very few of the samples. Typically, one sample may contain live cysts each year. For the 2013 season no cysts were found in any of the soil samples tested. These surprisingly low results (much lower than in Scotland or England) appear to be related to the absence of any movement between farms of farm saved seed. Blackleg, mainly caused by Dickeya species, seems to be an issue at growing crop inspections and in 2013 120 hectares were rejected or downgraded due to blackleg.
Following harvest all seed crops are inspected and tubers are taken for laboratory testing at the Comite Nord headquarters. 100 or 200 tubers are tested from each 50 hectares depending on the class and grade of the crop Around 1 million tubers are tested each year. Tests are made for tuber borne viruses and for the quarantine bacteria that cause brown rot (Ralstonia solanacearum) and ring rot (Clavibacter michiganensis). Around 500 hectares were rejected in 2012 due to virus infection – mainly in the PVY group.
Quarantine bacteria have never been recorded in any of the tests made by Comite Nord. Interestingly, tuber samples are also grown out by Comite Nord to monitor for glyphosate damage.
This seems to be a small but regular problem and around 50 hectares are rejected each year.
Comite Nord’s seed certification responsibilities are overseen by the French Government who have ultimate responsibility to ensure that the EU requirements for seed potato production and certification are met but this supervision appears to be with a very light touch and we were certainly given the impression that all day to day control inspections are the responsibility of Comite Nord. Again, this contrasts sharply with the situation in Scotland and England where certification controls are the responsibility of government agencies.
Certification costs seemed to be in the region of 500 euros per hectare which cover PCN sampling and testing, growing crop inspections and the routine tuber testing following harvest.
Other laboratory tests are available at additional costs and, for example, the Comite Nord makes around 200 DNA tests each year to confirm variety identification.
Overall, seed production conditions seemed to be very favourable – the land was relatively flat, stone separation before planting was often not required or practised and, with an annual rainfall of around 1000 mm, irrigation is usually not required. A further major advantage that seed growers in Northern France have is their close proximity to the extensive potato growing areas in France and Belgium.
Thanks are due to the Society for a travel grant in support of this visit.
W J Rennie